Mentoring the Next Generation

Preceptors like Carolinas Hospital System’s Erin Brewer Provide Real-World Education and Coaching for Pharmacy Students

It’s one of the key aspects of all healthcare education, but one that often goes unnoticed—the preceptorship. Built on short-term relationships between a student and an experienced staff person during a rotation, this is where a student transitions from amassing the knowledge and skills needed to practice to actually performing the job. Preceptors, who are coaches and mentors as much as educators, help students develop a sense of independence with everything from making care decisions and setting priorities to communicating with the patient and managing their time.

“I tell my students at the end of their third year of learning, the end of the didactic teaching [portion of their education], they have the pieces of a puzzle laid out in front of them, but the pieces themselves may not all be pushed together yet,” explains Erin Brewer, PharmD, BCPS, a Clinical Manager of Pharmacy Services at Carolinas Hospital System in Florence. “They may be a little out of order, but during that last year they are able to put it all together.”

“In school you study diabetes, you study heart failure, you study COPD—but in practice, you're going to see that your patients don't just come in with one of those diseases, they come in with all of those things at the same time, and you're learning how to manage them all at the same time.” 

Brewer was recently selected as the Low Country Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE) Hospital Preceptor of the Year and the Low Country Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) Hospital Preceptor of the Year by the South Carolina College of Pharmacy (SCCP), becoming the first preceptor to ever win both awards in the same year. She credits her success to the many teachers and preceptors who influenced her during her own training, particularly her post-grad residency at Palmetto Health Richland. She cites her first preceptor there, Joseph Kohn, PharmD, BCPS, among many others as a model for her own practice.

“Really watching him take care of his patients, that crystallized for me what I wanted to do,” she recalls. “I was also influenced by his precepting style and his passion for conferring knowledge and helping to grow us as students into better practitioners and better people.”

As for why Brewer herself has found such success, it seems to be equal parts circumspection and passion. 

“I try to model my work for my students and I try to coach them through skills while letting them perform those skills,” she says. “I want them to recognize the importance of becoming life-long learners, of constantly finding new answers to questions.”

“I always tell my students that communication is key, that you've never really ‘arrived’ with your communication skills. You're always going to meet new people that have different preferred methods of communication. I always tell them to to tailor their skills to those different communications styles of the people they are trying to impact the most.  Students must be able to successfully communicate with other medical professionals as well as patients.” 

Brewer’s passion for her role as a preceptor is clear, calling it an “incredible experience” that “adds so much satisfaction to my career” as she watches her students become effective, fully-formed practitioners themselves.

“It's really an honor to be able to impact their lives as they prepare to go forward and put their knowledge into action in clinical practice.”